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Rival Rifles – Top Alternatives to the AR-15

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The AR-15 stands out as one of the most popular and iconic rifles ever created. A favorite among many enthusiasts, it’s no wonder they have become the go-to option for most gun enthusiasts in the nation. Despite their greatness, they simply aren’t everyone’s preferred rifle, with a substantial portion of enthusiasts opting for different rifle types. 

In recent years, a massive surge of new semi-automatic rifle platforms has emerged to compete with the AR-15. While there were only a handful of solid alternatives in the past, there is now a vast array of options available for those looking for something other than the AR-15. 

Simply put, the AR-15 isn’t for everyone, and several factors contribute to this sentiment. Factors, such as its gas operating systems, caliber, and personal preference are among the most common. Today, we will explore AR-15 alternatives, what to consider before buying one, and the features of each: 

Why Choose an AR-15 Alternative

We’re big fans of the AR-15, but we understand that they may not work for everyone. Part of the beauty of the AR-15 is that it can be built for just about any purpose. With piston kits and custom parts, the AR-15 can be configured to fit a variety of different roles. That said, variety is the spice of life, and you could find that an alternative rifle platform may offer the ergonomics and controls that you’re looking for.  

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There are a lot of reasons as to why someone would want to choose a rifle platform other than the AR-15, ranging from personal preference to simply wanting to expand their lineup and try something new. AR alternatives are functional and can add a bit of flair that you might not find with another AR build. 

Best AR-15 Alternatives

If you’re thinking that the AR-15 isn’t the rifle for you, numerous alternatives with different receiver types, gas systems, and caliber options are available. Some popular alternatives include the AK-47/74/AKM, FN SCAR, Ruger Mini-14, niche rifles like the CZ Bren II, and bullpups like the Steyr AUG A3, and IWI Tavor X95. 

Each model has unique features that set them apart from the AR-15. While some of them, like the FN Scar and CZ Bren II, are similar in construction and ergonomics, other options like the Mini 14 and AK platforms are drastically different in look, feel, and construction. These alternatives can easily fill the same role as an AR-15. Do keep in mind that if you’re looking for a replacement rifle for defense, be sure to check out or guide on the best guns for self defense. Below, we’ll go over each of the different models and what sets them apart from the AR-15.  

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AK-47/74/AKM

The iconic competitor of the AR-15, the AK-47 is an incredibly designed, durable rifle model that is great for those looking for something other than the AR. Originally created in 1947, the AK is a long stroke gas piston rifle that’s commonly chambered in the venerable 7.62×39 cartridge, though they can be chambered in other calibers like 5.56 NATO. There’s also the AK-74, which is chambered in 5.45×39, but they aren’t as easy to find compared to the standard AKM. However, it is common to find a slew of high-quality, imported and American built AKs available on the market.  

Known for its legendary reliability, the AK is a tough rifle that’s built to withstand some of the harshest conditions possible. Its simple operating system make it capable of functioning smoothly, even when dirt or other debris makes its way into the receiver and action. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that the AK is immune to jamming when in adverse conditions, its real advantages come into play when exposed to fine dust, sand, and ice.  

Unlike the AR-15, the AK doesn’t have an upper and lower receiver. Instead, all the main components, like the front and rear trunnions, rear sight block, and barrel, are all pressed and riveted into the receiver, so long as it’s a stamped variant. Milled AKs, like the SAM7 and SAM5 from Arsenal Inc., have the key components milled out of the receiver since it starts as one big block of steel.  

In terms of customizability, it’s hard to top the AR-15, but the AK comes close. There are a lot of manufacturers making aftermarket parts and furniture for the AK, making it almost as customizable as the AR-15. Sureshot USA, JMAC Customs, SLR Rifleworks, Midwest Industries, and Texas Weapon Systems are some of the most popular, and they each produce incredibly high-quality parts to modernize the AK platform. Modernizing the AK is much simpler than most think, but for more info on AK customization, check out our guide on modernizing the AK.

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FN SCAR 16/17

The SCAR platform from FN has been a favorite amongst enthusiasts since its inception. Since its release, it’s seen its share of alterations, and now it’s an even more formidable rifle platform that is widely considered as a fantastic alternative to the AR-15. 

You can think of the SCAR 16 and the SCAR 17/20S like the AR-15 and AR-10. The SCAR 16 is smaller and lighter than the SCAR 17 and comes chambered in 5.56 NATO. In contrast, the SCAR 17 and SCAR 20S are larger platform rifles chambered in either .308/7.62 NATO or 6.5 Creedmoor. Both variants come from the factory with rail space for mounting optics and other accessories, though there is a substantial aftermarket parts availability for both.  

Like the AK, the SCAR is another piston operated rifle system, but instead of a long stroke piston, it utilizes a short stroke gas piston. This gas system is incredibly reliable and found on all SCAR variants. They also come with adjustable gas blocks, making the SCAR compatible with a multitude of suppressors and other muzzle devices.  

Additionally, they’re fully ambidextrous. Regardless of whether you’re left or right-handed, the controls like the mag release and bolt catch can be operated from either side of the rifle. Even the charging handle is ambidextrous, as it can be swapped to either side.  

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CZ Bren II

Similar to the SCAR in construction, the CZ Bren II is another short stroke gas piston rifle with an adjustable gas block, and similar controls to the AR-15. Like the SCAR, it’s fully ambidextrous, has a non-reciprocating charging handle, and features a manual of arms similar to the AR-15. However, there are some key differences that set it apart from the competition. 

Unlike the SCAR and AR-15, it has additional controls for the bolt catch and release inside the trigger guard. There’s still a standard catch and release on the sides of the receiver, but this extra one gives you quick access to them, allowing for faster reloads after some practice.  

Bren II models come with a few different stock options too. Depending on the model, they either come with an AR buffer tube adapter, sometimes with an AR stock, or it comes with the Bren II’s proprietary stock system. The Bren II’s stock is made of polymer and is adjustable for different lengths of pull. A further consideration, as of right now, the Bren II is only available in 5.56 NATO and 7.62×39.  

One of the great aspects of the Bren II is its aftermarket support. Aftermarket handguards, lower receivers, stocks, and other components are available from companies like HB Industries, Haga Defense, and Strike Industries.  

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Ruger Mini-14

A more traditional option, the Mini-14 has been one of the most popular AR alternatives for years. Essentially, the Mini-14 is just a scaled-down version of the M14. It uses the same short stroke fixed gas system, a Garand style locking breech bolt, and comes standard with integral scope mounts and fixed iron sights.  

Depending on the model you choose, there are a few differences to be found. For instance, the Mini-14 Ranch is the most basic in terms of design; it has a basic wooden polymer stock, no barrel threads, and standard iron sights. In contrast, the Tactical variant comes with an upgraded stock, iron sights, and a threaded barrel. In some cases, the Tactical model even comes with an ATI chassis, which features an AR style pistol grip, a folding and adjustable stock, as well as picatinny mounting points for optics and other accessories.  

Currently, the Mini-14 is offered in two different calibers, 5.56 NATO and 300 AAC Blackout. As of right now, 300 Blackout is only available for the Tactical variant, with the rest of the models being chambered in 5.56 NATO. Keep in mind that there is another variant of the Mini-14 called the Mini-30. Both rifles are identical, with the only difference being the caliber. The Mini-30 is chambered in 7.62×39 and has both Ranch and Tactical variants available.  

Compared to the other models mentioned, there isn’t as much aftermarket support for the Mini-14, but there are a handful of stock options and chassis systems available that can make it similar in versatility to the AR-15.   

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Steyr AUG A3

Arguably the most iconic bullpup made, the Steyr AUG is an expertly designed and efficient rifle system. Being a bullpup, it has an incredibly short overall length of only 27 inches while still maintaining a 16-inch barrel. This gives you the same benefits of having a traditional style rifle, all while having the form factor of a sub-gun or SBR (Short Barreled Rifle).  

Currently, Steyr is on the A3 model which vastly improves the key functions and design of the platform, adding a longer top rail and an external bolt release. Previous models like the A1 and A2 required the use of proprietary magazines, but the A3 can use STANAG AR-15 magazines, so long as it’s the NATO variant. If you already own an AR-15, you won’t need to buy other kinds of magazines; if you don’t already own one, we’re sure you’ll be pleased to know that AR-15 magazines are some of the most readily available and inexpensive magazines on the market. That said, AUG magazines are incredibly high quality and are relatively affordable compared to other rifle magazines. If interested, it’s worth checking out the standard A3 variant.   

Like the SCAR and CZ Bren II, the Steyr AUG operates using a short stroke piston system and has an adjustable gas system for suppressor use. Another neat feature of the AUG is its ability to easily swap barrels. By pushing the release button next to the included folding vertical foregrip, the barrel can rotate and be removed from the receiver, giving you a better ability to clean the rifle or swap out the barrel to a longer one.  

There isn’t as much variability in terms of caliber. As of right now, the AUG is only available in 5.56 NATO, but depending on the model, the AUG can either have a 1:9 or 1:7 twist ratio.  

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IWI Tavor X95

Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) manufactures incredibly unique and durable rifles, and the Tavor X95 is no exception. Utilizing a long stroke gas piston, it’s capable of withstanding harsh weather and other adverse conditions, while still having a short overall length of 26.125 inches with a 16.5-inch barrel.  

The X95 has more picatinny mounting points for optics and other accessories. Its handguard has removable polymer panels that cover the picatinny rail sections. This way, if you don’t want to have anything mounted on sides of your rifle, you can keep the rails covered for a more comfortable grip.  

Like the Steyr AUG A3, the Tavor X95 also uses standard AR-15 magazines. Currently, there are a few different variations of the X95 available. Depending on the model it can come with either a 16.5 or 18.5-inch barrel. Additionally, you can get it chambered in either 5.56 NATO or 300 Blackout, and there’s now a 9mm option too.

Which is the best Alternative?

Just like how it’s impossible to determine what the best AR-15 is, there isn’t a best alternative it. Depending on your rifle’s purpose though, it’s possible to narrow down the options to find the best fit for you.   

If you’re looking for maximum versatility and customizability, the AK, SCAR, Bren II, AUG A3, and Tavor X95 platforms have the most options available for customization. Whether it’s handguards, upgraded triggers, or stock systems, these three platforms have an incredibly vast parts availability. 

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For a more traditional experience, the Mini-14, or an AK with traditional wooden furniture, is going to be your best option. Though both can be transformed into incredibly versatile tactical rifles, it’s common to find variants of each with more traditional looks and basic features. For the Mini-14, their Ranch model would be the better option to use, and for the AK, you’d simply need to find one with wooden furniture which is an incredibly easy task as most models are as such.  

Conclusion

It’s no secret that the AR-15 is one of the most popular and iconic rifles ever created, but it doesn’t satisfy every enthusiast. Whether you’re looking to try something new or want a new semi-auto right that isn’t an AR-15, there are plenty of alternatives that can fill that role.  

Each of the platforms discussed above are all incredible AR-15 alternatives. Remember to take your needs into consideration when shopping for your rifle. Don’t be afraid to do more research to see what is available. You could find that there’s something else that works better for you.  

Now that you know what to look for, you’re more than prepared to find a high-quality alternative to the AR-15. We’re big fans of the AR-15, but we know that it doesn’t scratch the itch for everyone. If the AR isn’t for you, there’s always another option to check out.